The growth in the Treasure Valley is not going to stop until you elect officials who are not tied to the campaign contributions of the developers who are in control of the politicians. When I first moved to the Treasure Valley from New Meadows in 2004, it was still a beautiful, uncrowded community with a lot of empty space occupied by farms. It only took 15 years for that to change and it all started with the building frenzy of 2005-2007, which led to the building bust.
In 2008, many of the builders went bankrupt because of the leveraging that was being used to build homes and purchase raw land along with the banking industry’s loose rules on lending. What did we do about this problem of growing too fast? The simple answer is nothing, nothing, and nothing. The people in charge of growth, mainly politicians with little or no practical business experience, saw building as an opportunity to bring more jobs back to the Treasure Valley while expanding their fiefdoms.
As we came out of the great recession, up went the houses, apartment buildings, and condos along with new businesses. Many of these developments were in the planning stage before 2008 and were sold for a fraction of their original cost to the surviving developers. This allowed many of them to make some high margins on new homes and businesses without being hindered by increased impact fees for infrastructure. As more outsiders from neighboring states found the Gem State was a great place to live and raise a family, the housing boom pushed on with bigger homes but smaller lots.
Unfortunately, the politicians in charge gave no forethought as to how much dislocation this growth was going to cause when it came to the needs of these new homes and businesses. They proceeded to proliferate our communities with new construction at a speed no one could fathom until the special school assessments began to hit taxpayers in their wallets for badly needed new schools. No one thought to increase impact fees to plan for the development of new roads to change traffic patterns or infrastructure like larger wastewater systems that would be necessary for the new families moving in. To put it simply, no one thought through the infrastructure problems that come with growth or how they were going to pay them.
I speak of these problems from an experience that I had when I first moved to Meadow Creek, New Meadows, Idaho, from N.Y.C. in 1993. Here was a pristine development that had all of the necessities of a remote outpost community, basically in the middle of nowhere. It had its own roads, water, sewer, cable TV, and a maintenance crew to plow and maintain the facilities. It was unusual because it was essentially a self-contained community that did not have to rely on the state or city politicians. Instead, it had a developer who wanted to sell lots on this golf course but not pay for any upgrades in infrastructure. Soon after purchasing our new home, I ran for president of the property owners association and won, to my surprise. When you are voted into a position like this (and are the new guy on the block), you wonder what is wrong, since evidently no one else wanted the responsibility that came with the position.
As I soon found out, I would be going head to head against the developer on an almost daily basis. As president, you were pretty much the Mayor by default of this small community that was governed by a group of elected homeowners who served on a board of directors. Fortunately, previous business experiences as a manager proved to be invaluable in setting a plan in motion to help grow the development but also provide the infrastructure to go with it. I wound up serving for 7 years total as president. In that time, we were able to resurface the roads, put in fire hydrants and water meters along with expanding our sewer system. We even cleaned up of our forest by taking out 250,000 board feet of timber and made a profit in the process.
While all of these things cost money, it gave our community the necessary infrastructure to grow by leaps and bounds with new homes popping up everywhere. This is the difference between management by the people and for the people instead of supervision by politicians for their own self-aggrandizement. While much was accomplished, some things were left unfinished; however, the people who stayed there kept the place on the right track by eventually taking over the golf course with a limited partnership, purchasing the swimming pool, tennis courts, and clubhouse. They now have a structure of volunteers on committees who run the property and appear to be committed to seeing that it grows properly and still keeps its pristine esthetics as a rural community.
We have just moved back to New Meadows recently and are now in the process of building a new home. I fully intend to reengage with the committees that make it run so smoothly. If you want a community to function properly, you need citizen participation in the planning and growth of that community. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the time to devote to these things and we rely on our elected officials to do the job for us. We are just now seeing the terrible job they have done and it is going to hit everyone with inconveniences and higher taxes for years to come.
The Treasure Valley is entering into a period where people will be paying for this new infrastructure with huge tax increases year after year trying to play catch up with the problems high growth brings. You can see the many changes in Ada County over the past 10 years, as it has turned more moderate and liberal because of the inexperience/selfish motives of the people we have elected to public office. The tremendous growth of Boise State has played a large part in the shift not only politically but also socially, and it will change the Treasure Valley for decades to come.
We have so much land in our state that could be developed in the mountains and desert areas. It’s not as easy or as profitable to build in the less populated areas because the developers must put in the infrastructure before building. Until developers run out of land and places to build in the Treasure Valley, its residents are just going to have to get used to the many changes that are coming, and I can assure you they will not like most of them.
Boise State University is the liberal head of the spear that is hurtling through the Treasure Valley like a hot knife through a stick of butter. The taxpayers have been subsidizing this tax absorbing sponge for way too many years without having a say in what happens in that institution. When you look at any of the many colleges in our state that have taxpayer support, you will find they also have had a dynamic effect on the communities that surround them. They have brought more changes to the political arenas as liberal politicians replace the conservative and moderate republicans. They will eventually take the reins of our state legislature along with our city and county governments (Mayor Bieter).
Take a look at where all the changes have been made politically from conservative to liberal in America, and I believe you will find they are centered in most cases around the vast urbanized areas. You will also find most of these areas are centered on our liberal-minded Colleges and Universities that have brought in what we now call “diversity” to our schools and communities. Nearly 40% of Idaho’s population (Total 1.75 million) lives in the Boise-Nampa metropolitan (Treasure Valley) area, which amounts to approximately 730,400 Idahoans. It will not be long before this area becomes the center for political control of our state which is becoming more liberal by the day.
Let me digress for a moment to finish my thoughts on what could be next for our great state, as I believe there is still hope for change. I took a ride through the Brundage Mountain area yesterday with one of the commissioners from Adams County. We covered 60 miles in 5 hours and I discovered this area is still one of the most beautiful in which I have ever had the privilege to live.
When you can stand at the Brundage lookout at 7,640 feet above sea level and see all of Lake Cascade, it is truly a sight to behold. While we still have serious problems with our federally controlled land because of bad management by the U.S. Forest Service, you would be amazed at the potential for growth in this area. There have been rumors that the Wilkes Brothers are looking to subdivide and sell off their forestland now that they are almost finished logging. This would make available some of the most beautiful areas of our state ripe for a developer who actually had some vision, as did the first developer of Meadow Creek.
The problem is that making a fast buck always seems to get in the way of doing something good. What we need are developers who are real visionaries like the Simpsons who developed Meadow Creek. While the Treasure Valley developers continue to look for every scrap of available land, they will continue to ignore all of the great areas available in the north and south. I often ask myself, are there any visionaries left in this world or is everyone just trying to fatten their wallets at the expense of others?